Netflix’s ‘War of the Worlds’ moment

Netflix’s ‘War of the Worlds’ moment

A recent experiential stunt for Netflix’s 3 Body Problem caused a stir at SXSW festival in Austin, creating a modern-day ‘War of the Worlds’ fake out.

Netflix has generated buzz for its science fiction TV series, 3 Body Problem, through a promotional campaign with help from Kalieda. At the recent SXSW tech and media show in Austin, Texas, the streaming giant projected a mesmerising holographic display into the sky.

Netflix illuminated the sky near the tech show venue with an accompanying countdown. The digital numbers flickered against the night canvas, creating an otherworldly spectacle. But it wasn’t just about counting down—it was a message that followed, leaving viewers intrigued. The cryptic words proclaimed that humanity would once again learn to fear.

Roger Sho Gehrmann, co-founder of Studio took to Linkedin to report: “It was genuinely one of the most compelling physical displays (and I mean a screen) I’ve ever seen promoting a show. There was big crowd gathered around and the vast majority stuck around to watch it in its entirety. Mind you, there’s a lot more stuff going on around the place they could be occupied with instead. So it was impressive enough to make people stop what they were doing in a busy festival to stand around and watch a whole TV trailer. As far as ads go, I think that’s a win.”

The 3 Body Problem plot

3 Body Problem is an adaptation of a Chinese novel by the same name. This literary work had long been considered “unfilmable” due to its intricate plot and cosmic themes. Yet, Netflix took up the challenge, bringing this enigmatic tale to life.

At the heart of the story lies Ye Wenjie, an astrophysicist whose life takes unexpected turns. Her father’s tragic murder during the Chinese Cultural Revolution propels her into a world of secrecy and danger. Conscripted by the military because of her scientific expertise, she finds herself stationed at a clandestine radar base in a remote region. There, she faces a pivotal decision—one that reverberates across time and space.

The Netflix projection, reminiscent of Asgard’s Wrath 2’s grand unveiling, adds to the anticipation surrounding this ambitious series.

Our take

Reports that the hologram scared a nearby Uber driver might be taken with a pinch of salt, but festivals have come a long way from the days when a bunch of local hippies would congregate in a field with just a barrel of ale and a few suspicious rollups. Experiential stunts were initially met with a raised eyebrow, but the likes of Bestival founder Rob da Bank were instrumental in insisting that brands curate a presence in a way that aided a festival’s MO, rather than just providing a convenient selling point.

Historical precedents

The recent Netlfix stunt is the latest in a long line of faux paranormal stunts. On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre on the Air delivered a historic radio broadcast adaptation of H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds." The electrifying performance, presented as a series of simulated news bulletins interrupting a regular musical programme, caused widespread panic and hysteria among listeners who believed that Earth was truly under attack by Martians. Welles' innovative approach to storytelling and the convincing realism of the broadcast showcased the power of radio as a medium for evoking fear and suspense.

A similarly terrifying spectacle took place in 1992, when "Ghostwatch," a BBC television special broadcast on Halloween night in 1992, sparked uproar among viewers. Presented as a live investigation into paranormal activity at a supposedly haunted house, the programme blended fiction with reality in a faux-documentary style. Many unsuspecting viewers mistook it for genuine, leading to widespread panic and distress. Despite its controversial reception, "Ghostwatch" has since gained a cult following and remains a landmark example of the power of television to provoke strong emotional reactions and ignite public debate.

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